The venerable Gran Turismo 7 is not the only racing game being released in the next week or so, indeed the first seeds of Grid Legend sprouted that same year with retro racing royalty soccer touring cars on PC and the original PlayStation.
Mining that 25-year history for inspiration and re-enlisting some long-forgotten characters, Codemasters has turned grid Legends into a sequel to both 2019’s grid and 2002’s Toca race driver, which was the first time the studio had injected a story in the series.
The live-action documentary style approach of grid legends is very different from the Primitive PS2 cut scenes of the pioneering Toca race driver but it’s a story I’ve enjoyed watching unfold even if the on-track action hasn’t changed dramatically from grid 2019.
Grid Legends as a story mode driven to glory is a little different from the one codemasters debuted in F1 2021 last year. In Grid Legends the story is presented as a sports documentary rather than a standard drama. It’s more Netflix’s drive to survive and less Sylvester stallone’s driven and it’s probably the better of the two parts.
The live-action presentation has been pieced together using a mixed reality process that places real actors on entirely digital backdrops similar to the much-discussed technique employed to shoot the mandalorian and has actually worked quite well.
It’s a simple story and I’d be lying if I said I buy all of these actors as credible racing drivers but the cast’s performances are decent and broadly earnest. Sex education’s Shooty Gatwa is particularly entertaining as the playful rwandan Scottish racing driver Valentin Mansi, though his appearances are limited. I’ve never actually won, I’ve come close though.
The Villainous MCcain duo hammered up slightly as driven to glory’s token tool bags. Although there’s admittedly nothing here quite as memorably cheesy as a command and conquer red alert era Tim Curry declaring his intent to fleet out of space.
Nonetheless, the official reintroduction of the MCcains is a cute touch for me as a longtime fan, it’s fun to see retired toka race driver hero turned heel Ryan again after two decades. It’s also nice to finally put a face to his Nephew Nathan.
A longtime Grid series AI opponent who’s been terrorizing us on the track since 2008. They’re not the only characters dusted off for a resurrection in Grid Legends either, but I certainly won’t spoil the late cobra Kai-esque reveal here.
The curated set of 36 events in driven to glory took me roughly seven hours to work through and ultimately serves as a springboard for the broader main career mode. Grid Legends breaks its career mode into chunks rather than displaying every available event on a single screen like Grid 2019 does, which is a neater and more traditional approach to a racing game career.
On the other hand, I did feel a bit more railroaded this time around with some event types randomly locked behind the completion of unrelated others, there’s a bit more to do off track as well with sponsorship objectives to select and achieve and boosts to buy for your teammate and mechanic, but grid Legends is still spinning its wheels elsewhere.
Unlocking new pictures for my team logo or pre-made Livery design simply isn’t exciting when the creative tools and peers like Need For Speed, Forza and even Hot Wheels are light years ahead. On track, grid legends also struggles to sometimes fully distinguish itself from Grid 2019 something that is most noticeable when I was running the same races and the same cars on the same set of track ribbons that were arguably overused in the previous game.
That said there has been a significant increase in the amount of tracks on offer in grid legends relative to the limited set in 2019 with high-profile circuits like Suzuka and Mount Panorama rejoining the roster. Alongside a host of new Urban street courses from London, Moscow, Paris, and more the new urban tracks are filled with the same fancy firework effects and thick crowds as grid 2019.
But the layouts are a little vanilla lacking standout corners or sectors that would have been remembering the name of one course over another, the other thing that suddenly distinguishes this grid from the last are a few tweaks that returning players are likely to notice, the tendency of the AI to make performative errors and suffer failures has been ramped up a lot.
Meaning it’s now common to watch his opponents ahead spear off the track with punches or retire from the racing line with their car building white smoke. It happens far too often to be considered realistic but I like it and it adds a bit of interesting unpredictability to the racing that Grid’s accomplished but more comparatively sedate rivals often lack.
Speaking of Rivals grid 2019’s Nemesis system has returned and has been honed to make your own track rivalries last longer than the remaining duration of a single race. While in Grid 2019 Nemesis would drop their grudges against you after the checkered flag.
If you rough up an AI too much in grid legends, their angst will continue into the next race and beyond this hyperbolic brand of the high contact racing is generally so aggressive by default that it wasn’t always clear to me just how much angrier my nemesis were than normal, but I do enjoy the tension during moments where they are clearly trying to sideswipe me.
Top of the Multiclass
But beyond that grid legends look sounds and feels largely the same as its predecessor cars grip tight brake hard and brush off crippling accidents with contempt, it can be a challenge without the optional assists, but grid legends is by no means a simulator, It’s a far more accessible arcade-style racer and it’s hard.
This doesn’t mean every car handles the same though, Classic British touring cars still have the feel of being tugged around by their front wheels, higher downforce open wheelers feel pressed into the asphalt and stadium super trucks twist until they’re hustling through bends on three wheels.
The Stadium Super Truck races and the ramps they feature, are one of the new events in grid legends and the racing they provide is chaotic and interesting grid legends also sees the return of drift mode from grid auto sport, but it’s the tense new multi-class races that I enjoyed the most.
These events pick different classes of cars together with the faster handicapped by a delayed start the slower cars need to hang on out in front long enough to make it to the end and the faster cars must hunt them down before they run out of laps. I found myself spending a lot of time creating matchups in Grid Legends as race Creator, which is very user-friendly and allows us to save and edit our favorite custom races.
Honestly, I’d be happy to see all racing games have multi class racing work just like this, they should probably also crib from grid legends clever hop in multiplayer 2 which works by always filling races with AI up to the 22 player limit and allowing new human drivers to take over a random AI driver while the race is in progress.
In practice hopping work surprisingly well in grid legends as low stakes rough-and-tumble multiplayer environment, if you drop into last how many places can you make up. If you drop in closer to the front can you hang on for a good result either way it’s better than sitting in a lobby with your gear stick in your hand.
In testing the multiplayer has worked very well for me and displayed very few synchronization hiccups, despite the fact I was racing from Australia against players in the UK, the US and who knows where else.
It’s not obvious at first glance, but Grid Legends is a definite step up from grid 2019 with a bigger collection of circuits more race types and some extremely clever hopping multiplayer. It’s not a dramatic leap though particularly as the reused car roster grows stale and the customization options tread water.
Still this brand of accessible racing action remains high on contact and higher excitement and the fact that the live-action documentary-style story can harken all the way back to 2002’s Toca race driver is acute and effective flex for racing gang with such history.
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- March 4, 2022